General Synod: no to ordinations and blessings

The 2004 General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia said ‘no’ to the ordination of people in same-sex relationships, ‘no’ to the blessing of same sex relationships, and endorsed the Government’s recent amendment of marriage law to include opposite-sex partnerships only. Several resolutions were discussed.

The first resolution motion invited conversation and listening.

31.34—That this General Synod:

1. notes the Lambeth Conference resolution 1.10 of 1998 on human sexuality and subsequent developments in various parts of the Anglican Communion;

2. welcomes the publication of the study guide to Faithfulness in Fellowship;

3. urges Dioceses to promote the use of the study guide and also commends to the Dioceses the Doctrine Commission’s recently published essays Lost in Translation as they explore the importance of Scripture in our understanding of this issue; and

4. requests Dioceses to commit themselves to listen as the Church develops a Christian response to the contemporary experience of human sexuality.

According to Revd Dr Charles Sherlock, a number of suggested amendments failed. (I am indebted here to his account). I am happy for this reasonable motion to have been accepted.

However, in its action on the next three motions on human sexuality, the Synod took little account of the caution recommended by its own Doctrine Commission and sought firm conclusions on issues where there is no consensus. The Commission had said in its report to the Synod that:

Although no consensus emerged amongst its members, the Commission indicated that no legislative action in the Church should be taken and so recommended that further study and prayer be undertaken. During the course of the work undertaken on this issue it became apparent to the Doctrine Commission that serious study needed to take place over the issue of how Anglicans ‘read, mark, learn and inwardly digest’ the Scriptures. It was felt that division over hermeneutical issues relating to the interpretation of the Scriptures was at the heart of many of the difficulties currently dividing the Anglican Church both nationally and internationally.

The General Secretary presented a series of conservative motions as a basis for discussion.

34.7—Recognising that this is a matter of ongoing debate and conversation in this church and that we all have an obligation to listen to each other with respect, this General Synod does not condone the liturgical blessing of same sex relationships.

This motion passed with a substantial majority, after various amendments seeking to make the motion more stringently conservative were dropped. Speakers opposed to the motion included Elizabeth Smith, and Gillian Varcoe of Canberra and Goulburn.

34.8—Recognising that this is a matter of ongoing debate and conversation in this church and that we all have an obligation to listen to each other with respect, this General Synod does not condone the ordination of people in open committed same sex relationships.

Again, conservative amendments failed, including an attempt to condemnation of “any sexual same sex relationship”. “We must welcome the formation of committed friendships, and allow people to share their home,” one member said.

34.9—This General Synod welcomes the initiative of the Federal Government in clarifying that marriage, at law in this country, is a relationship between a man and a woman.

Dr Sherlock moved that this question not be put, since it was of a different kind to earlier ones and involved the synod in political judgement. A “spirited debate” led to this move being defeated and the motion eventually passed in its original form.

Postscript: Further motions (1) asking Synod to express ‘regret’ at actions taken in other parts of the Communion, and the ‘challenges to fellowship they create’ and (2) to ‘affirm its support’ for Lambeth Resolution 1.10, mercifully were not decided, as time ran out during debate.